R.A.B. Is Not a Person
While much of the established criticism of Half-Blood Prince has led to the choice of Regulus Black for R.A.B., along with numerous other witches and wizards, perhaps attention should be re-directed, yet again, to Melissa’s and Emerson’s interview with Ms. Rowling:
ES: What’s one question you wished to be asked and what would be the answer to that question?
JKR: Um – [long pause] – such a good question. What do I wish I could be asked? [Pause] Today, just today, July the 16th, I was really hoping someone would ask me about R.A.B., and you did it. Just today, because I think that is – well, I hoped that people would.
MA: Is there more we should ask about him?
JKR: There are things you will deduce on further readings, I think – well you two definitely will, for sure – that, yeah, I was really hoping that R.A.B. would come out.
No matter how encouraging her response might seem, it is tactful; all references to R.A.B. are not gender-specific. When Melissa and Emerson proceed to ask Ms. Rowling questions concerning Regulus Black, she switches accordingly to masculine pronouns. And in the previous mention of R.A.B. as a candidate for Regulus Black, Melissa and Emerson use he (Can we figure out who *he* is, from what we know so far?), but Rowling skillfully uses the equivocal neuter pronoun, that: Well, I think *that* would be, um, a fine guess.
Pointing this out may give more encouragement to those wishing to advance the claim that R.A.B. is a woman, but the purpose of shedding light on Rowling’s use of neuters is to open the possibility that R.A.B. is not a person at all, but rather a message. Specifically, an acronym, like O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizarding Level), N.E.W.T. (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests), or the more common P.S. (post script) that occurs at the end of letters.
This is a theory that has been in hiding for some time, partly because theories which favor Regulus as R.A.B. are so abundant (matched only by dissenters favoring another wizard, male or female) and partly because the possibilities of R.A.B. serving as an acronym or abbreviated message are endless.
At the moment, however, I am taking an Introduction to Children’s Literature course, and the class was assigned to read Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, which was published in 1958. In it, Tom is sent away to live with his aunt and uncle in their flat because his younger brother Peter has the measles. Soon after Tom goes to stay with them, he discovers a grandfather clock in their downstairs hall which enables him to go back in time. When he tries to discuss this with his aunt and uncle, they are predictably dismissive. Angry and determined, Tom writes a letter to his brother, Peter, explaining what happened. The text continues to read thus:
When he had finished his letter, Tom wrote across the top the initials: B.A.R. They stood for Burn After Reading. All Tom’s letters to Peter, from now on, bore that direction
(pg. 33-34, from the Harper Trophy edition)
This is relevant only if one keeps in mind how well-read Rowling is. If Tom’s Midnight Garden was published in 1958, chances are that she has read the book; but even if she has, chances of B.A.R. occurring in a letter and R.A.B. occurring in a letter (one written by a boy named Tom and one addressed to a man formerly known as Tom) are entirely coincidental.
Or are they? (Sorry, overdramatic.)
At best, Tom’s Midnight Garden may be treated as source material, if, in fact, Rowling ever read it. As far as I have read in interview transcripts, Rowling has not mentioned TMG, which regrettably bodes ill for the theory that R.A.B. is loosely based on B.A.R. On the other hand, it does advance the possibility that R.A.B. is not an initialed name, but a message, a motto, or even directions, especially if it is remembered in the scene we first encounter R.A.B.
At the end of the chapter The Flight of the Prince, Harry realizes that the locket is a counterfeit and he reads the note left inside. Harry is also reading the note next to Dumbledores dead body. A phrase that most of us are familiar with is R.I.P., which stands for Requiescat In Pace, or Rest In Peace (the initials in the Latin conveniently corresponding to the English initials), and which is commonly spoken over the body of a dead loved one or engraved on a beloved’s headstone. Might we have a similar motto on our hands? Perhaps in Latin? Incidentally, another instance of Rowling using a phrase in a foreign language is on the Black Family Tree (oh no, my theory crumbles at another mention of Black): Toujours Pur, French for Always Pure.
One could conflate message and directions, if one considers Toms B.A.R., Burn After Reading, in his letters to his brother, Peter. In Tom’s Midnight Garden, Peter understands these instructions: Peter read the letter, and then burnt it, as he must burn all Toms correspondence now (pg. 125).
It is strange that the author of the note in Half-Blood Prince states, “I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret,” but then goes on to leave the initials R.A.B. instead of a name. Unless, like Tom and Peter in TMG, the initials are a message or instruction or insult of some sort that only the sender and the addressee understand.
Its a shame that Rowling’s use of the neuter with regard to R.A.B. is not more abundant. This is due to the shocking fact that the only interview with Rowling to give birth to a question about R.A.B. since the release of Half-Blood Prince was the MuggleNet/TLC one. Admittedly, however, interviews with Rowling post-HBP were scarce due to work on the final novel. At this stage, Rowling is not likely to give any interviews until after the release of Deathly Hallows, by which point we will have found out about R.A.B. Until then:
I know I will be dead long before you read this
but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your acronym.
I have Read All Books so far and intend to re-read them as soon as I can.
I face Deathly Hallows in the hope that when you meet your deadline,
I may be mortal once more.